Club Focus – Fulham – Makeshift Cottagers shuffle into Europa League

August 27, 2009. Mark it in your diary as the day Roy Hodgson rotated his squad. It was a day that was full of milestones – Fulham’s longest round-trip for a single match, the first time a football team has started a match with only one of three central midfielders able to pass, and the only time Astroturf has been used in a game involving an English side since, well, answers on a postcard please. Four of the usual first XI did not start – rested for Sunday’s trip to Villa Park – and gave way for some fringe players who had to be peeled off Roy Hodgson’s substitute’s bench.

As good a finisher as Erik Nevland is, he has never been known as a lone striker. Chris Baird is not a midfielder, in fact some would say calling him a footballer is even a stretch, and Damien Duff is not an ‘in the hole’ midfielder. But, such are the options available to Hodgson, the above is exactly where those players played. No wonder the team was ineffective.

The game itself was hardly worth a 4000 mile round trip, or even a tenth of that, to be honest. Hodgson’s pre-match anguish about his players not being used to an artificial pitch proved correct as they slumped to a second limp defeat in four days. The second-string midfield and attack successfully showed Europe how difficult it is to play on such a surface, barely creating a chance in the 90 minutes. Match reports are indicative of just how dull the game was – picking out a first-half Schwarzer save and Perm’s 89th minute winner as the only real action of the match. It matters not, however, as the 1-0 loss means the Cottagers still qualify for the Europa League group stages with a 3-2 aggregate win. So, 4-5-1 did not work for a manager who is a firm pupil from the ‘old school’, i.e. 4-4-2 – so do not expect to see any more tactical surprises unless injuries insist on it. If nothing else, the lack of gusto from the Whites’ semi-reserves has shown the manager he has little beyond his first team if jadedness rears its ugly head at some point in the season. If Hodgson intends to successfully juggle at least two fixtures a week then he needs to make the next five days count – by bringing players in, that is, not by helping David Moyes replace Joleon Lescott.

You thought the Brede Hangeland saga was over, but it isn’t, at least until the end of the transfer window. This window is a mysterious time in which Fulham fans watch their team get consistently fleeced by any club going, whether it is the buying or selling of players. The list is endless – Steve Marlet £11m, Diomansy Kamara £6m and, potentially (although reports are most likely fabricated), Brede Hangeland for £10m. In a market when Lescott was sold for £24m, £10m for Hangeland would be, quite literally, daylight robbery. However, with no reasonable option for a replacement, expect the giant Norwegian to stay until at least January, when the merry-go-round starts turning again.

As mentioned in August 5 Club Focus, Kagiso Dikgacoi was poised to join the club. This writer understands this transfer has finally gone through, although he half expects to see merely a space on the field next to Danny Murphy or Dickson Etuhu when the South African finally makes his debut. If this man actually exists, then the Whites have some much needed cover in midfield. There are now four players fighting for the two central midfield roles – and thankfully all can pass the ball, because Hodgson does not fancy the abilities of his second string:

“The players who have come in – Chris Baird, Stephen Kelly, Zoltan Gera, Bjorn Riise – they don’t have the same level of skill perhaps as the others.”

A damning verdict, but also a challenge the manager has laid out to his hopefuls – aside from the often hopeless Gera – if they show him they can pass the ball to each other, they have a chance to break into the VIP club which is Fulham’s first team. Speaking of passing the ball well – Aston Villa. They have found themselves just in time for the Cottagers’ arrival in Birmingham and could prove to be as tough a test as Chelsea was. What is for sure is more will be required from the – probably the same old – attacking players if two games without scoring is not to turn into three. August 30, 2009. The day Hodgson reverted to the tried and trusted.

Related posts

Leave a Comment